Friday, August 27, 2010

Sudan President Bashir Attends Kenyan Constitutional Ceremony

Sudan's Bashir attends Kenya constitution ceremony

6:42pm EDT
By Richard Lough

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya chose not to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on International Criminal Court charges of genocide when he arrived on Friday for a ceremony for the East African nation's new constitution.

The ICC, to which Kenya is signed up, accuses Bashir of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, where the United Nations estimates 300,000 have died in a humanitarian crisis sparked by a brutal counter-insurgency campaign. Bashir denies the charges.

He was escorted into Nairobi's Uhuru Park, where the signing ceremony was taking place, by Tourism Minister Najib Balala, a fellow Muslim.

Last month, the African Union criticized the ICC's warrant for Bashir and called for its suspension. Kenya has ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC in 2002 and requires states to cooperate with the court.

The Hague-based ICC has no police force and relies on member states to enforce its arrest warrants.

The chief ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is also investigating possible crimes against humanity committed during Kenya's post-election violence in 2008. He expects to issue arrest warrants before the end of this year.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula confirmed Bashir was invited alongside other regional leaders for Friday's festivities. "His visit has no impact at all on Kenya's future commitment to the ICC," Wetangula said, without elaborating.

ICC judges reported Kenya to the U.N. Security Council and the Assembly of States Parties, which oversees the work of the court, for allowing Bashir's visit so they could take any measure "they may deem appropriate."

"Kenya has a clear obligation to co-operate with the court in relation to the enforcement of warrants of arrest," ICC judges said in their decision.


Bashir made his first trip to a full ICC member state last month when he visited Chad, which also did not arrest him.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, said he was disappointed the country had hosted Bashir. "We consider it important that Kenya honor its commitments to the ICC and to international justice," he said in a statement.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Kenya to arrest Bashir and ensure its own cooperation with the ICC over the 2008 violence.

"She urges Kenya to respect its obligations under international law to arrest and surrender those indicted by the ICC," an Ashton spokesman said. "She calls upon Kenya to continue to cooperate with the ICC in its investigation into the 2007-2008 post-election violence."

In a less direct statement, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "urges all states party to the Rome Statute to cooperate with the court" in line with their obligations under a Security Council resolution.

Rights groups said Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's hosting of Bashir raised questions about the country's commitment to cooperate with the ICC on the Kenyan investigations.

"Kenya will forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution if it welcomes an international fugitive to the festivities," said Elise Keppler of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"Whether Kenya allows a suspected war criminal into Kenya is a test of the government's commitment to a new chapter in ensuring justice for atrocities."

Kenya hosted peace talks in a separate conflict between Sudan's north and south and signed a peace deal in 2005.

Bashir's travel has been restricted mostly to nearby African and Middle Eastern allies since the ICC warrant. Last year he was forced to cancel a trip to Turkey at the last minute after Ankara came under intense European pressure.

(Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in Khartoum, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations)

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